The Brewers could compensate for the probable loss of Prince Fielder by acquiring corner infielders, a shortstop, and a few late-inning relievers, but payroll flexibility may be limited.
- Zack Greinke, SP: $13.5MM through 2012
- Randy Wolf, SP: $11MM through 2012
- Corey Hart, RF: $19MM through 2013
- Rickie Weeks, 2B: $31MM through 2014, plus 2015 vesting option
- Ryan Braun, LF: $131.5MM through 2020
- Yovani Gallardo, SP: $25.1MM through 2014
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Shaun Marcum, SP: $6.8MM
- Casey McGehee, 3B: $3.1MM
- Kameron Loe, RP: $2.8MM
- Nyjer Morgan, CF: $1.9MM
- Carlos Gomez, CF: $1.8MM
- Manny Parra, SP/RP: $1.2MM (non-tender candidate)
- George Kottaras, C: $800K
- Prince Fielder (Type A 1B), Yuniesky Betancourt (Type B SS), Mark Kotsay (unranked OF/1B), Craig Counsell (unranked IF), Jerry Hairston Jr. (unranked IF/OF), Josh Wilson (unranked SS), Felipe Lopez (unranked 3B), LaTroy Hawkins (unranked RP), Francisco Rodriguez (Type A RP), Takashi Saito (Type A RP)
Prior to a stellar 2011 season, Brewers GM Doug Melvin had a fantastic offseason. He put together a team that won a franchise-record 96 games, set an attendance record, and fell just two wins shy of a World Series appearance. He also managed to lock up Braun and Weeks within a two-month span. Melvin's follow-up act will be challenging — he's likely to lose first baseman Prince Fielder, and he drained his farm system of trade chips and potential impact players last winter.
Though Fielder said in September this was "probably" his last season with the Brewers, owner Mark Attanasio said, "We're planning on participating in the sweepstakes." There is one scenario where I can see the Brewers retaining Fielder. Say Fielder and agent Scott Boras do their thing all throughout December, visiting mystery teams and such, and all the offers fall short of Adrian Gonzalez's seven-year, $154MM deal. Also say the Brewers refrain from making a major commitment to someone like Jose Reyes and keep first base open. Then, in theory, they could jump in for around $120MM in January. However, I can't remember Boras failing with a free agent in his prime. There's no obvious candidate to overpay for Fielder right now, but the smart money is on Boras.
26-year-old Mat Gamel hit .310/.372/.540 with 28 home runs in 545 Triple-A plate appearances this year, and the Brewers hope he's a late bloomer and potential Fielder replacement. Otherwise, the free agent market features Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, and Derrek Lee as potential regulars for Milwaukee.
The left side of the infield presents another opportunity for the Brewers to improve. The smart move at third base just might be hoping McGehee bounces back from a dismal season, because the market is bleak outside of the potentially pricey Aramis Ramirez. McGehee would represent an arbitration gamble of $3.1MM or so. If the Brewers do not intend to use McGehee as a starter, they should consider trading him. Minor leaguer Taylor Green could be an internal option at third base. Shortstop offers many opportunities to upgrade over Betancourt. There's Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins at the high end, with Clint Barmes and Jamey Carroll also representing improvements on both offense and defense.
The Brewers' final need is at the back end of the bullpen, with Hawkins, Saito, and Rodriguez now free agents. Melvin could re-sign Hawkins and/or Saito or look at many other free agent options.
The problem with all these upgrades is cost. Perhaps the Brewers' record attendance will result in a payroll increase, but right now they appear to have less than $10MM in flexibility. The fact that the Brewers are willing to entertain re-signing Fielder suggests they could fit in a $20MM player and still address other needs. However, we don't know if money potentially earmarked for a franchise player like Fielder would be reallocated to players like Reyes, Ramirez, or Cuddyer. The Brewers gave up a lot to acquire Greinke and Marcum last winter, and the moves paid off. With both pitchers eligible for free agency after 2012, the Brewers should take advantage of this window of rotation riches and stretch payroll as far as possible in an attempt to make another playoff run.